Friday, June 23, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 7

Because this is the final season, I'm flipping the script so this series of reviews ends on a more positive note. Positive-ish. Just remember, I'm a Voyager fan. It is possible to be a huge fan and see the flaws at the same time, though I realize that's a controversial stance.

Season 7 losers:

"Repression" - Eh, it's not truly terrible but I find the holographic detective work to be annoyingly convenient. It's the Star Trek version of "Can you zoom in on that?" It's The Manchurian Candidate in space.

"Lineage" - B'Elanna goes psycho. I don't care how traumatized you are that some kids were slightly mean to you as a child, you can't reprogram the Doctor (who we've established is a being deserving the same legal rights as any sentient being) to force him to reprogram your baby.

"Prophecy" - Wow, really seems like I hate B'Elanna, doesn't it? I don't - I just have never found the Klingons to be a very interesting species, so these kinds of episodes are a bit of a slog. (And pretty condescending to the intelligence of religious people, too.)

"Human Error" - Shouldn't there be a rule against using your fellow crew members as holographic templates to explore your sexual desires? It seems like a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

"Friendship One" - Why regret humanity's early mistakes when you can magic them away with the joy of technology? Also, the idea that a probe with diagrams and one Vivaldi song on it led to the destruction of a planet feels a bit disingenuous. The people living there had no responsibility for their own fates? Riight.

"Natural Law" - Star Trek often falls prey to the Noble Savage fallacy, and it's especially icky and condescending here. I have so many un-PC thoughts about this episode, I'd better leave it at that. Also, it highlights the supreme lack of any romantic sparkage between Seven and Chakotay.

Season 7 highlights:

"Inside Man" - Evil Reg? Yes please! Also, I appreciate that in this episode even Harry Kim knows better than to get his hopes up too far. Going home won't be that easy for at least another twenty episodes!

"Body and Soul" - Jeri Ryan does some first-class work here as the Doctor in Seven's body. I've always loved the body-switch storyline, which I think that Will Shakespeare would have milked for all it was worth.

"Flesh and Blood" - A two-parter about the results of sharing technology. The Hirogens have effed up majorly, and created a smart, self-aware race of holograms who can demolish them. When Voyager finally gets home, AI rights are going to have to be seriously revised, and the moral implications of the holodeck better examined by Star Fleet's lawyers.

"Repentance" - So, I put this in here because I like what they're going for. It's clunky and preachy, but Star Trek characters having to respect a culture that still has the death penalty is an idea worth exploring. It's not great, but it is interesting. What if we someday could cure people of criminality? Should we? Maybe that question would have made a better story....

"The Void" - This episode is in my Top Five. I love the way Janeway forges alliances by being open-handed when common sense and circumstances seem to call for more Machiavellian tactics. I even like the little void aliens who learn to communicate with data pads. This is an episode where I fully buy into the superiority of Star Fleet ethics.

"Author, Author" - Okay, I really like the Doctor. So sue me. When his fellow crewmates are goody-goodies, he can be refreshingly human and flawed. (I see the irony, yes.) Here he experiments with writing his own version of a social issue novel (like Black Beauty, but for holograms), putting his friends into a terrible light by using their likenesses and caricatured personalities. It's an ambitious episode that also manages to be fun.

"Renaissance Man" - So I REALLY like the Doctor. It's hilarious to see his lies grow exponentially as he basically starts replacing the command crew one by one - for reasons we don't fully understand at first.

"Endgame" - In an uncharitable mood, I might summarize the final double episode this way: "In which we discover the answer to the central theme of Voyager: who will Seven of Nine get with?" I wish they had just left her single and ready to mingle in the Alpha Quadrant. If anything, Chakotay should have gone with Janeway, where there was some actual chemistry and a believable history to draw from (remember "Resolutions" from Season 2?). Nonsensically pairing off all of your characters is the laziest kind of fanservice.


Further, I'm disappointed in the Doctor's inappropriately young, blonde wife - I wish they had cast an older woman to illustrate his maturity as a character.

But boy, it's nice to see these kids get home in one piece after 172 episodes that were by turns preachy, derivative, smart, fun.... I could go on. In "Endgame" I love elderly Janeway giving the finger to time cops everywhen to fulfill her greatest mission (cough - Ahab - cough). The Borg are a superior kind of enemy for her to fight, and a final faceoff with the Borg Queen was the only way to go.

Bravo. Here's to Voyager.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 6

Season 6 highlights:

"Equinox, Part II" - A less episodic show would have made better use of the morally bankrupt crew of the Equinox and what they represent to Voyager's crew. Still, it's fun to see a Star Fleet ship who cling fast to their bad morals. And considering some of Janeway's later actions, I'm not sure she has much room to judge....

"Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" - I'm not sure these bulky fish-like aliens were ever named in the show, but when they appear it's always with a semi-clever and completely greedy scheme. The poor Doctor gets no privacy even in his own head, which means that his Walter Mitty-esque daydreams get peered into by practically everyone.

"Dragon's Teeth" - The enemy of my enemy is my friend - except when your enemy's enemy is a species considered long-extinct that has a thirst for conquest. I always love an episode when those who have our full sympathy in the beginning become antagonists in the end - remember the Trabe in Season 2's "Alliance"?

"One Small Step" - The Star Trek universe is so cushy that it makes our current space program look like the difference between glamping and digging your own toilet hole. Which only reminds me of the incredible courage and curiosity of astronauts. Even Seven of Nine is moved by the story of a long-lost explorer hero, and his lonely fate.

"Blink of an Eye" - This is the kind of story that really needs a novel to tell. The idea of a planet so extremely out of sync with the rest of the galaxy is fascinating, and I love the wax-figure Voyager we get to see. (Also - the Doctor had a son and no one thinks that is important?!)

"Virtuoso" - This is one of my favorite Doctor-centric episodes, when he gets to be virtuoso and clown all in the same story. The tiny but intellectually arrogant Qomar are a great foil to the Doctor as he doesn't even bother resisting his own inborn arrogant impulses, encouraged by their adulation. He gets famous for 15 minutes, just like the rest of us.

"Ashes to Ashes" - What a fabulous premise - a species that reproduces by using the dead of other species. I was talking to some fellow Star Trek nerds, and we speculated that having one of these as a starship captain would be a great character setup for a series. We can dream.... Of course, Voyager uses this premise to shoehorn in a love story for Harry Kim. Poor Kim, he always got a raw deal.

"Live Fast and Prosper" - It is really, really fun to see the alternative universe version of the morally mighty Star Trek characters, even just for a moment. It's amusing that one of the con artists over-invests in his role as Tuvok, too.

"Life Line" - Counselor Troi tries some tricky head-shrinking to get the bickering "father" and "son" in the same room. I do love seeing her and Lt. Barclay pop up with frequency in these later season Voyager shows. (Though how sad is it that Troi's most enduring character trait is loving chocolate ice cream?)

Season 6 losers:

"Barge of the Dead" - Don't get me started on this Klingon religious bullshit. It also annoys me that in a later episode someone asks B'Elanna about her beliefs about the afterlife and she makes zero reference to this nonsense we all had to endure. *Huff.*

"Fair Haven" - Sorry, cute Irish-bartender-hologram-love-interest for Janeway. (It doesn't work on so many levels....) Though the scene where Janeway tweaks with his personality is pretty funny, the rest of this is just a lead-up to a slightly better Fair Haven episode, "Spirit Folk". I've never liked the depictions of the Irish in the Star Trek universe, where they're all basically alcoholic leprechauns with below-average IQs. (Winning most egregious: Enterprise's "Up the Long Ladder", which has a truly offensive portrayal.)

"Memorial" - Isn't forcing unwitting travelers to experience a massacre so intensely and personally that they not only suffer post-traumatic stress, but also misplaced guilt, seem....wrong? I would have blasted the damn thing out of existence and put up a nice plaque, but our super-moralists actually repair it and skip along on their self-congratulatory way.

"Tsunkatse" - This is a gladiator-cliche episode that doesn't add anything to the genre. Maybe if there was more of The Rock's eyebrow game, it would have been better?

"Fury" - While it is nice to see Kes, it's also very troubling that she's become so mentally unbalanced in her dotage. And these last few Voyager seasons rely WAAAY too much on time travel to clean up their messes.

Monday, May 29, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 5

Season 5 highlights:

"Night" - Voyager is basically becalmed in a seemingly endless region with no stars. The ending falls apart a bit with some preachiness (remind me, Janeway, why it's okay to kill polluters?), but the setting is an unusual one for the show (until Season 7's excellent "The Void," anyway).

"Once Upon a Time" - Neelix cares for the young Naomi Wildman when her mother goes missing on an away mission. Neelix's own emotions about the deaths of his family members influence his decision not to tell Naomi the truth right away.

"Nothing Human" - Creating a realistic-looking non-humanoid alien on a TV budget is tough. But creating a tricky moral dilemma - that's what science fiction was created for. I still don't know if I agree with the Doctor's decision at the end of the episode, but I think the moral quandary he faces is one worth considering.

"Counterpoint" - Captain Janeway gets laid less than any other Starfleet captain, which is a real shame. Here, she falls for a sexy jackbooted thug, and their chemistry makes the story work. I buy her falling for the flirtatious Inspector Kashyk (Mark Harelik), who has the advantage of not being a member of her crew. I also buy her being far too smart to let her emotions get the better of her.

"Bride of Chaotica!" - Okay, so I complain about the holodeck being used in too many storylines. But in this case, seeing Janeway swan around as the Queen of the Spider People makes it all worth it.

"Course: Oblivion" - This episode pays off "Demon," and gives us our only glimpse of the Tom Paris/B'Elanna Torres wedding. It's very sad.

"Think Tank" - Jason Alexander is wonderfully oily as a member of a mercenary think tank that sets its sights on recruiting Seven of Nine. (Also, do we buy the claim that they cured the Vidiian phage? I like to think so.)

"Someone to Watch Over Me" - It's pretty funny to watch the normally self-possessed Seven of Nine awkwardly pursue a cute and hapless crewman. I appreciate, too, that Robert Picardo (the Doctor) is smart enough to call back to this episode on occasion, with just a trace of longing in his eyes.

"Equinox, Part I" - What if Voyager's Year of Hell was their main experience of the Delta Quadrant? We get to see the answer to this question when Voyager makes contact with another Federation ship that's seen better days and is under attack by aliens.

Season 5 losers:

"Extreme Risk" - Ugh, poor B'Elanna and her inability to process emotions. The Klingons have never been my favorite species, because often they are trapped in situations like this one. I always sympathize with B'Elanna, but I also think she needs a good therapy session. (Doesn't that holodeck have therapists programmed into it?)

"Gravity" - I've never been a fan of the single-episode romances. The character of Noss is a little too irritatingly cute and quirky for my tastes, and Tuvok's attachment to her makes zero sense.

"The Fight" - Poor Chakotay. He always seems to get trapped in these god-awful episodes. His character is often such a blank that it's no wonder the writers don't give him good material. (Seriously, they should have just put him and Janeway together briefly so he'd have something interesting to do in later seasons.)

"Juggernaut" - The Malon are a dead-end species, storytelling-wise. The story of nasty, illogical polluters has just been done to death. And the fact that early episodes made it clear that Voyager has a magical cure for disposing of theta radiation makes the Malon seem incredibly dumb and short-sighted.

"11:59" - I get the sense that Kate Mulgrew twisted some arms to get this episode featuring a distant ancestor of Kathryn Janeway made. It's an okay story, but it's not a Voyager story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Year of No Clutter

Year of No ClutterYear of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stories of hoarders have always fascinated me, and like Eve O. Schaub I find the ideals of Marie Kondo's philosophy deeply appealing but unreachable. I also am a fan of A&E's Hoarders. I have a history of reading books about hoarding/decluttering. It comes from a personal place of dealing with someone close who has hoarding tendencies. Also, since I've moved in the last year, I really appreciate the philosophy of decluttering. (I'm obsessed with tiny house shows, too!)

This book practically leapt into my hands when I saw it on the shelf of my local library. Schaub is a "serial memoirist" like A.J. Jacobs. (I haven't read her previous memoir, Year of No Sugar, mostly because the premise sounds like something MY mother may have tried when I was a kid.)

Schaub is a funny, relatable, and breezy writer. I thought she managed some interesting revelations about her relationship to the clutter of the single room she tackled for her year, which she had named the Hell Room. (I definitely took away an interest in a company she uses to help organize her kids' art projects, Plum Prints!) In short, it was a funny read with a bit of depth to it - perfect poolside material.

So Quotable:

"There's nothing wrong with keeping things that other people deem strange because it's. It the things that make you a hoarder. What makes you a hoarder is whether it takes over." - 167

"I've been attempting to wrap my mind around another realization for some time now - objects are mortal. They have a life and a death much like people do." - 171

Other titles on hoarding I've read over the years, listed in order of how much I liked/learned from them (Year of No Clutter would go into the middle somewhere):

1. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
3. The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life by Robin Zasio
4. Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever by James Wallman
5. Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act by Barry Yourgrau - Not recommended, at all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 4

Season 4 highlights:

"Revulsion" - Occasionally Voyager attempts a good old-fashioned horror story, and this one of a murderous hologram is just the ticket.

"Scientific Method" - The crew of Voyager begin suffering mysterious symptoms, and it's up to the Doctor and Seven of Nine to discover the sinister cause. The extremely sinister and self-righteous cause.

"Year of Hell, Part I & II" - Voyager faces continual disaster for months, losing life and limb before learning that the cause of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day(s) is a genocidal monomaniac with a ship that can alter time. I like to think that Chakotay's willingness to cut the guy (Kurtwood Smith!) some slack is a reflection on the Commander's endless devotion to his own Captain Ahab, aka Captain Kathryn Janeway. Kathy gets her crazy on in these episodes, and as usual wins the day.

"Waking Moments" - Mostly I love the nightmares you see in the first ten minutes of the episode. Do Vulcans dream of impassive sheep?

"Message in a Bottle" - The crew gets a chance to use alien technology to contact home, and for voodoo reasons they can send the Doctor to Starfleet more easily than a Facebook poke. Still, we get to have fun watching the Doctor interact with a more advanced EMH (Andy Dick!) in the Alpha Quadrant.

"Hunters" - In struggling to download the messages that Starfleet has sent after the Doctor's away mission, the crew encounter the Hirogen hunters and struggle with mixed emotions about hearing from home. (But seriously, why is Starfleet communication tech so terrible? They are eternally buffering!)

"Living Witness" - I debated whether to put this in the highlights or the losers category, but in the end decided that its storyline is a bold standalone. The Doctor is entertaining as always (his assessment of Tom Paris, for instance), and I love a good Rip Van Winkle storyline, plus evil crew doppelgangers! My only hesitation about this ep is that if you try to cast the Kyrian/Vaskan conflict in an American setting it is problematic, to say the least.

"Hope and Fear" - Voyager's chickens come to roost in a way. The gift of a magnificent new starship, apparently from Starfleet, is such an obvious Trojan horse that Janeway is rightfully skeptical. I liked this episode for asking the question that was avoided in Scorpion, season 3.

Season 4 losers:

"Nemesis" - The ending is the only redeeming part of this slog through some alien conflict I don't care about. It's very difficult to get invested in one-off characters, even cute little girls with bad haircuts.

"The Raven" - Seven has PTSD from her time with the Borg, and it manifests in unusual ways. Unfortunately, in boring ways.

"Concerning Flight" - Again with the lame holocharacters. I couldn't care less about Fake da Vinci's existential crisis, and wish the Captain had just turned him off and put the mobile emitter in her pocket.

"Retrospect" - Suffers from the same problems as "The Raven." Am I the only one who finds it uncomfortable to have Seven make a false accusation of being "violated"?

"Demon" - This story isn't compelling, but it does directly tie into to the later, heart-wrenching "Course: Oblivion", which keeps it from complete ignominy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 3

Season 3 highlights:

"False Profits" - The Ferangi are obnoxious uber-capitalists, and that's why I like them. This episode also ties neatly into a Next Generation episode "The Price".

"Future's End, Part I & II" - Sarah Silverman is adorable, and a highlight of this show where Voyager makes a pilgrimage to Earth in 1996. It's funny when the Captain and Commander are more appalled by Venice Beach than they are by any alien culture they've encountered.

"Blood Fever" - When Voyager gets sexy! Of course, this means the idea of sexual tension is dialed to eleven - actually lethal to characters if left unresolved. What would we do without the Pon Farr and those hyper-repressed Vulcans? Tom stays noble as B'Elanna tries to jump his's a charming story to tell their grandchildren someday. Also, in the tag scene, a chilling reminder of enemies to come!

"Macrocosm" - Janeway goes all Rambo on Voyager against disgusting giant viruses that sound like bees. One of my favorites.

"Rise" - This episode is great for Neelix's devastating takedown of Tuvok's supercilious attitude. Tuvok, normally so wise, comes across as arrogantly blind to his own defects, and is finally called on it. Which is exactly how it should be, though without a permanent payoff.

"Displaced" - Alien takeover of Voyager by unusual means. I love sneaky alien plots that prey on that old Federation optimism. It's fun to watch.

"Worst Case Scenario" - Someone's designed a holodeck program that tells the story of a Maquis mutiny aboard Voyager. Unfortunately for the crew who are fans, it's unfinished. Fortunately, the show writers find a great way to add a twist. And to bring back sightings of the inimitable Seska.

Season 3 losers:

"The Swarm" - Two half-baked ideas do not make a compelling episode. I love the idea of a species that has a language the Universal Translator can't handle, and wish that the mystery had been solved in a more satisfying way. It's also touching to see Kes caring for the Doctor as he suffers computer dementia.

"Warlord" - An interesting idea hindered by a poor performance of its lead. Kes is adorable, but "Warlord" proves that Jennifer Lien is best at being whispery and wise, not brutal and powerful.

"Darkling" - Mostly I ding this episode for its casual shrug-off of Kes and Neelix's long-term relationship. Basically we find out in scene two that they're over. They were always a mismatch, but the show invested quite a bit in their relationship. It would have been nice to see some reasons for their breakup.

"Real Life" - When the Doctor creates a Leave It To Beaver-perfect holofamily, B'Elanna is quick to make sure the experience is as effing depressing as possible. I'm sorry, I just can't care about annoying, cliched holocharacters that are programmed by a hologram: there are too many levels of unreality in that scenario.

"Distant Origin" - A REALLY heavy-handed Star Trek take on the plight of scientists from Galileo to Darwin. The reptilian alien design is pretty cool, though, and a nice change from the Weird Nose and Coral Headed species Voyager usually encounters.

Honorable Mention:

"Before and After" - Because of the reference to the "Year of Hell" episode.

"Scorpion" - The idea of a species that scares the Borg is compelling. It's also the first time we meet Jeri Ryan's drone Seven of Nine. The Borg are probably the single greatest idea Star Trek ever had. My only hesitation with this two-parter is that Janeway and her crew never even consider allowing the Borg to be destroyed by their new enemy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 2

Season 2 highlights:

"Twisted" - There is a great moment at the end of this episode where the crew is literally backed into a corner by a potentially lethal anomaly. Seeing the crew forced to stop fighting for survival is unusual, and it's nice to put an end to the technobabble. It's also fun to see the crew wander lost around Voyager throughout the episode, unable to reach the bridge to even figure out what's gone wrong.

"Maneuvers" - I would watch an entire show based on the adventures of Seska as she schemes her way to power. She's more cunning than the rest of the goody-two-shoes Star Trek crew, and she's a match for Janeway's fanaticism. (Unfortunately, she's mostly pitted against Chakotay, which is less interesting.) Unfortunately, the Kazon are totally sexist or Seska would have conquered the Delta Quadrant.

"Prototype" - A creepy expressionless robot is found floating in space (the design is basically a silver version of the famous Metropolis 'bot). B'Elanna's story arc, moving from intellectual curiosity and a desire to help an artificial species survive to horror at what she's created follows the classic scary-robot story, but is no less effective for it.

"Death Wish" - Love seeing Q, and the moral dilemma is a solid one. I've always thought that boredom would be the worst part of immortality.

"Deadlock" - You'll see this on a lot of best of lists, because it's about as dark as Voyager gets, with an unexpected ending.

"The Thaw" - Yes, this is my nightmare. A tacky, multi-colored world with squawking evil characters intent on holding hostages.

"Tuvix" - This might be one of my favorite episodes. Every time I see it I feel queasy at the fate of Tuvix. The way the crew, who liked him, turn away and leave him to his fate simply because he isn't "one of them." It's chilling, and I wish there were more episodes like this one.

"Basics, Part I" - Remember how much I love Seska? This is why.

Season 2 losers:

"The 37" - This episode pisses away a brilliant question: What if the Voyager crew decided to settle? The fact that they decide to leave a human colony of 300,000 without even trying to recruit anyone seems short-sighted to me, considering that with a 70-year journey they'll become a generation ship. Surely there were some capable doctors with a sense of adventure on that planet! Also, I'm not as in love with Amelia Earhart as everyone else is. Sorry. (Now if this had been about Bessie Coleman, on the other hand....) Still, the last scene where Janeway and Chakotay speculate on who may have chosen to leave Voyager is touching - for Janeway, a validation of her unwavering commitment to going home.

"Projections" - Another promising premise killed by a too-short run time. The resolution feels extremely arbitrary. Maybe the rest of the show is set in the Doctor's hallucination! (It is nice to see Barclay, but he isn't given much to do.)

"Threshold" - One of the WORST Star Trek episodes ever. Extreme ick factor.